Back to a purple paradise

PUBLISHED: 10:11 07 August 2015 | UPDATED: 10:11 07 August 2015

Hitchin lavender farm

Hitchin lavender farm

Archant

When we were children, growing up in a quintessential Hertfordshire village, we had neighbours who would look in on the house when we were on holiday.

Honey beesHoney bees

Every summer when we returned from two blissful weeks in either Cornwall or Devon, we would rush upstairs to our bedrooms - and every summer, without fail, there on the pillow would be resting a lavender bag.

Our elderly neighbour - the elegant and beautiful Peggy, would have made for us girls a perfect lavender bag - most likely using the lavender from the huge bush which separated our garden from that on the other side of our house.

Only as I got older did I realise the irony of lavender bags, and the long held association with them being something that are only used by old ladies.. I loved mine, and the memory of it now makes me feel warm inside.

The huge lavender bush which grew to the side of our house was always swarming with bees. It moved with their busy pursuit of nectar, and the quiet hum which they created was the soundtrack to our summer days; playing in the garden.

We used to dare each other to run past the bush to our friends’ house on the other side of it - and my lifelong love of bees was born.

I don’t know whether my adoration of lavender was created all those years ago, or whether it has been forged from some childhood nostalgia - but regular readers of the column won’t be surprised by my topic for this month - having made my annual pilgrimage to the lavender farm at Hitchin.

Saturday morning saw me heading for the beautiful purple haze in the distance - depending on the direction you drive in from, you can see the fields up ahead - a patchwork of purple hues, and on a hot summer’s day you can almost feel the haze of bees and the scent drifting skyward.

Arriving in the car park, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t disappointed by the number of cars - I’d never been directed to an overflow car park before - but I noted the growth in popularity of the farm since I started coming a few years ago, and smiled to myself that a local horticultural business was doing so well; and rightfully so - as it’s essentially heaven on earth!

I needn’t have worried about the number of people - as soon as I walked up to the lavender fields, the noise dropped, and the only sound I was aware of was the gentle murmur of the bees, working away at their nectar collection. Some of them obliging to stay long enough on each flower to allow me to take their picture.

The smell hits you almost as you reach the gate to the field, and stayed with me long into the journey home - the bunch of lavender that I’d picked as part of my entry fee, sitting beside me in the car - ready to hang on the bedstead when I returned home - lavender being an ancient method to aid restful sleep.

You could happily spend several hours walking the fields and taking photos, or picking the lavender - or just sitting and looking at the incredible panorama whilst eating an ice cream at the bottom of the field.

Next time I go, I intend to just take a book, and sit drinking in the delicate, yet perfect scent of English lavender. As you’d expect - there is provision for the hundreds of visitors that now visit the farm - a tearoom with an outdoor eating area in addition, situated in a beautiful converted barn - serving hot and cold food and drinks, and with a lovely shop selling lavender products and plants.

Entrance to the fields is less than a fiver for an adult, and they also hold outdoor cinema events, and weddings - I can’t think of anywhere finer!

For more information see hitchinlavender.com or call 01462 434343.

Things to do in the garden this month...

* Tie in, and train any roses that you have against fences/walls. Mine are currently bending and bowing over the edge of the lawn, and desperately need tying back - make sure you deal with them before they get to this point, as they’re a real nightmare to handle when they get too unruly. and they fight back!!

* Take cuttings of climbers - towards the end of the month you can take cuttings of climbers, like clematis.

* Hedge-trimming - If you are lucky enough to have hedges in your garden, you can cut established hedges. Although it can feel like a thankless task, the overall effect in the garden will be so much smarter when it’s finished. Do take great care if using power tools to do your hedge trimming!

Focus on: bees

It will be no surprise to any of you that I love bees. Really, really love bees! Regardless of the fact that they are totally essential to our eco-system, our entire existence, and of course the plants and flowers that I love - I have always loved bees.

My name comes from the Hebrew meaning “bee”, and when my beloved mum isn’t calling me “sweetpea” she calls me her “bee” so I guess it makes sense for me to adore them!

Sadly, as I’m sure you are all aware - our bees are in danger. Due to various factors - not least various pesticides, there is a real threat to bees. A species that we have taken for granted, but which genuinely, and very importantly we need to coiexist with in order to survive, is now really at risk. However, and it’s a big, shouty, capital HOWEVER.. there are lots of things that we can do to help the bees to thrive, and hopefully to survive:

* Plant bee friendly plants - ideally organic bulbs, or bulbs/plants from growers who have made a commitment to be bee-friendly;

* Sow wildflower mix - the bees love it - and you have the added bonus that it’s absolutely beautiful to look at!

* Have some water available in your garden. Bees must have water, but they can often drown in big expanses of water - so a dish with some pebbles in it will give them something to balance on whilst they drink;

* Provide somewhere for them to live. I’m not talking bee hives - but the little insect “hotels” that you can buy from nearly all garden centres are perfect and generally inexpensive.

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